Mobility and urban space are intricately connected, and reaching climate neutrality means bringing the two together more comprehensively than ever before. Can we achieve this? Urban Mobility Days finds out!
This week Urban Mobility Days takes place in Seville (Spain).
Urban Mobility Days will bring together politicians, local authorities, industry, and urban transport practitioners with the European Commission to connect, share and discuss the path forward for a sustainable, innovative, and equitable future for Europe’s urban mobility.
One of the key questions for today’s policymakers in their pursuit of cleaner and smarter cities is connecting urban mobility with wider questions surrounding the use of urban space.
As such, one of the kick-off conference sessions, Linking Urban Mobility and Urban Space to Achieve Climate Neutrality, examines how to ensure new, cleaner and shared transport services progress in coordination with use of urban space, how mobility and urban planning can work together to achieve climate goals, placing these discussions within the context of the European Green Deal.
High-profile panellists including, Karen Vancluysen Secretary General, POLIS; Rosalinde Van der Vlies, Deputy Cities Mission Manager; Janet Ågren Deputy Mayor of the City of Umea; Kristina Krupaviciene member of the European Economic and Social Committee and Joost Vantomme CEO of ERTICO convene to discuss.
To provide an insight into the panel, Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of POLIS- a network of cities and regions working towards more sustainable and inclusive urban mobility - sat down with Eltis to examine the key issues at hand.
You will be speaking on the panel “Linking Urban Mobility and Urban Space to Achieve Climate Neutrality,” why do you feel this topic is important for cities and regions?
I strongly believe that the biggest game changer in cities in the coming years will not be one or the other cutting-edge technology, but rather the massive reallocation of urban space in favour of sustainable modes of transport. We are faced with a legacy of decades of car-centric planning in our cities, and a fairer distribution of our scarce and valuable public space is long overdue. The good news is that cities are in charge of that space and that by giving more space to certain modes and taking away space from others, they can really steer which modes they want to prioritise in the climate neutral city of tomorrow. Transport planning and land use planning are closely linked, which is also reflected in new concepts such as the 15 minute city, which are increasingly gaining ground and are based on the principle of proximity.
The European Commission’s Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities mission seeks to deliver 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030. From the shifts and progress you have seen over the last few years, what will be some of the “low hanging fruit”, and what will require more comprehensive and persistent work?
Referring to low-hanging fruit, the pandemic has shown us that the public sector can also be fast and agile and act quickly. We should capitalise on how space reallocation and tactical urbanism interventions were put on a fast track during that period, with pop-up bike lanes, the introduction of residential zones, reallocating parking space to outdoor terraces or more space for active travel, etc. We saw that those cities that did particularly well during that period and also managed to make temporary interventions permanent, were cities with very good SUMPs in place. What they did, was accelerate the roll-out of measures that were part of their longer-term vision anyway.
Beyond that, there is no such thing as a silver bullet, unfortunately, and we will need multiple and great efforts as well as integrated packages of measures that mutually reinforce each other, to tackle the challenge head-on. We also shouldn’t forget that climate change isn’t the only challenge cities are facing in the transport field. At the same time, they have to address ongoing concerns such as air and noise pollution, congestion, and road crashes.
We will need all sustainable modes to join forces to together compete with the ongoing attraction of private car use, which needs to be reduced substantially in urban cores to address the aforementioned challenges. This will not only require high-quality and affordable public transport and shared mobility services, and safe and high-quality infrastructure for active travel, it will also require full physical (through hubs and interchanges) and digital (MaaS) integration of these modes to make multimodality and intermodality a reality.
What do you think will be the major hurdles for cities when it comes to decarbonising their mobility sector?
Incentives and carrots are important, but the decarbonisation of our sector also requires bringing out disincentives and sticks, and we can no longer wait to finally properly internalise the external costs of polluting traffic to society. That includes introducing sensitive measures such as low and zero-emission zones, congestion charges, parking pricing, but also traffic circulation plans, none of which are met with great enthusiasm initially, but are very necessary. This may sound like a cliché, but such actions do require political leadership. At the same time, we have to make sure that the major transport transformation we are going through is just and inclusive. The wide range of urban mobility themes we address at POLIS, are also looked at through this just transition lens.
Much of POLIS’ work involves bringing together local decision makers to discuss key challenges surrounding urban mobility, and share possible common solutions. Why do you feel these voices are important?
There’s nothing as powerful as peer-to-peer exchange, as learning from each other’s biggest successes as well as mistakes. Our Working Groups bring together the practitioners that implement mobility measures on the ground on a daily basis, while our Political Group gathers deputy mayors and regional ministers holding the mobility portfolio and offers them a confidential environment to discuss the political opportunities and challenges around transformative and sometimes disruptive change.
Cities and regions hold many of the keys when it comes to achieving the goals of the European Green Deal. It’s therefore instrumental their voices are heard and they have a seat at the table. We are proud to represent their voice and engage in a dialogue with other levels of governance, as well as the private sector. We’re in this together.
What do you feel needs to happen at EU level to support municipal decision makers if they are to achieve climate neutrality targets?
Europe is an ally for cities and regions and often we see that ambitions and interests are well-aligned. More challenging, is the level in between, the member states, where ambitions are often watered down due to conflicting interests and economic pressures. It is wrong to think that economy and ecology, that prosperity and sustainability cannot go hand in hand. Cities are ready to take up their responsibility but need to be empowered and supported by other levels, through appropriate legislative frameworks, by giving them the regulatory competencies they need to be able to act, and by providing substantial financial support, e.g. for high-quality public transport and infrastructure, not only for cutting-edge innovation.
Changes in urban space in pursuit of more sustainable urban mobility (streetspace reallocation, new urban vehicle access regulation etc), have prompted challenges from citizens in many cases. This is something the urban mobility community needs to face head on; how do you think political decision makers- at all levels- can better engage with citizens on this?
A major challenge for political leaders is to reconcile what the individual citizen wants or thinks he needs, with what is good and necessary for the city as a whole, and that is no easy task. It has become a buzzword, but is instrumental: co-creation. Involving citizens and stakeholders from day zero in your policies and planning, explaining why you do what you are doing, asking the right questions, and inviting them to co-design solutions to create ownership. Sandboxing and experimenting are important too, letting people experience in real life what a different city could feel like, is powerful in winning the hearts and minds of people. The SUMP is an excellent tool that helps you make sure you systematically build in public participation every step of the way.
For you, what is the value of Urban Mobility Days, and what do you hope this year’s edition achieves?
UMD has become a family gathering. It brings the urban mobility ecosystem together, and takes stock of what is happening in cities across Europe and how European policies and R&I can co-shape and support local sustainable mobility agendas.
For more information and to register to follow the event online see here.
To view the programme, see here.
Photo Credit: © DG MOVE